Why Are Koi Fish So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)

koi fish


Koi are a specific type of gorgeous carp, a fish that lives in cold water typically associated with Japan.

They make a great addition to a small pond on almost any property, but the cost may deter someone from moving forward.

How can something so similar to a goldfish cost so much?

We will cover the top 10 reasons koi fish come with such a high price tag.


1. Buying From A Breeder

Koi fish in water, high angle view


You can buy koi fish from the local pet store at a relatively inexpensive cost with some going for as low as $5.

However, most pet stores don’t have the time and knowledge to care for the koi fish as well as a professional breeder will.

Professional koi fish breeders charge more for a fish since they provide the best conditions to produce the most unique and largest koi fish possible.

About 90% of breeders have their farms in Japan, providing the cultural background necessary to breed koi fish, too.

To create the best conditions, breeders create large breeding pools in remote locations far away from the contaminants of both urban and agricultural water.

Breeders also create an environment specifically designed to reduce the likelihood of disease by manipulating life in the ecosystem.

Finally, many breeders like to play with genetics to produce koi fish with unique colors and patterns that you can’t find in nature.


Can I Find Koi Fish In The Wild?

While you may be able to find koi fish in the wild on rare occasions, their bright coloring doesn’t lend to great survival rates in the wild since they attract predators.

Some of the most common predators include cats, eagles, and raccoons.

The most common places to find wild koi fish include the following:

  • Black Sea
  • Caspian Sea
  • Aral Sea

Many wild koi fish struggle to survive in the winter, especially if the water drops to a temperature lower than the koi fish can handle.


2. High-Quality Features

Koi fishes in an aquarium


Not every koi fish is worth the same as the one next to it.

The most expensive koi fish have a luxurious appearance that shimmers in the light and showcases the brilliant colors perfectly.

Another feature that distinguishes high-quality koi from low-quality koi involves their movements and activity.

Fish that move quickly and in graceful motions tend to cost more than slow, awkward swimmers.

Furthermore, koi fish that socialize well cost more, too, thanks to the charm of koi fish social interactions and the increased likelihood of getting them to mate with their partners.

An especially attractive prize-winning koi can cost as much as $10,000.


Award-Winning Fish

Contributing to the high price of high-quality koi fish are the numerous competitions held to award the best koi fish.

One of the most prestigious koi fish awards is the All-Japan Koi Show.

See the following features of some of the top winners to learn what features constitute a prize-winning fish.

  • Grand Champion: large 93 cm. red koi with a muscular body and youthful appearance.
  • Superior Champion: rare, glistening pine-cone patterns.
  • Mature Champion: drastic black and red coloring with a robust body.

Based on the winners, two of the main features considered the most important when critiquing koi fish are their size and coloring.


3. Pond Installation And Maintenance

koi pond


A koi pond requires a significant upfront investment.

In fact, the average koi pond installation costs $11,000 with high-end ponds costing more than $100,000.

Size plays a large role in the quality of the fish, and similar to goldfish, koi fish require a lot of space to be able to grow to their full potential.

Not only do the ponds need to provide sufficient space for all of the koi fish in your possession, but the environment requires a significant amount of upkeep itself.

Maintenance for a koi pond runs at about $3,150 per year on average.

Maintenance includes cleaning the pond, creating a healthy ecosystem, and replacing any broken parts in the plumbing system.

Every pond should also have a filter to remove hazardous materials.

Poor maintenance can lead to a foul odor coming from the koi pond and potential damage to the fish.


What Are The Best Conditions For Koi Fish?

Koi fish thrive in water temperatures between 59°F and 77°F.

Water temperature directly affects the koi’s internal systems, so it’s best to offer depth variation to allow fish to adjust slightly if necessary.

To create variation, ensure the pond has both deep and shallow parts to it.

It can also be helpful to limit the amount of sun that hits the water so that the water doesn’t get too hot and inadvertently cook the fish.

Oxygen levels in the water require constant monitoring.

Ideally, dissolved oxygen levels will fall between seven and nine milligrams per liter of water.

Koi fish are omnivores and require regular feelings to maintain their large bodies.

Two to three feedings a day for five unlimited minutes should provide the correct nutrition without overfeeding.

Finally, koi fish are social creatures.

To keep koi fish happy, it’s best to put them in an environment that’s large enough for them to mature comfortably while also having numerous other koi fish for social interaction.

Not only do koi fish like the company, but their interactions with each other only increase the aesthetic appeal.

Koi fish can live with some other animals, but it’s important to be careful before introducing a foreign creature into a koi pond.

Some animals generally approved for cohabitation with koi fish:

  • Goldfish
  • Janitor fish
  • Rainbowfish
  • Tilapia
  • Japanese trapdoor


4. Different Types Of Koi

Koi Fish in pond


There are an obscene number of different types of koi fish.

Gosanke koi makes up the most popular category of koi that include the following subcategories:

  • Kohaku
  • Taisho
  • Sanshoku
  • Showa Sanshoku

Most of the different koi fish fall into separate categories based on their coloring and patterns.

Kohaku koi fish are the most popular and recognizable koi fish characterized by their white and red coloring.

Taisho koi fish have black spots in addition to the traditional Kohaku coloring.

Showa koi fish are relatively young since they didn’t come to popularity until the 1960s.

As opposed to a white body, the Showa has a black body with black and red features.


5. Difficulty Breeding

Colourful koi fish in the floating farm, Vietnam


Breeding koi fish may seem easy a first, especially when you learn that they lay up to 1,000,000 eggs.

However, only about 60% of the eggs hatch, bringing the number down to 600,000 in three to five days.

Unfortunately, most of the koi fish don’t meet the very specific features desired by consumers.

The farmers must focus on the fish with the most promising features and the possibility of surviving.

In the end, only a few hundred of the million eggs can be used.

After a female lays eggs for the first time, she will lay significantly more later, so many breeders prefer to work with young koi to get the most eggs possible.

These numbers reference the results for near-perfect breeding conditions and limited complications.

In many cases, koi fish won’t even produce these many eggs.

On top of that, it takes a long time to breed and raise a koi fish to the point that a breeder can sell it.

In fact, it takes an average of three to five years.

After all that hard work, the koi fish will live up to 20 years.


How Can I Encourage My Koi Fish To Breed?

First and foremost, your koi fish need a comfortable environment to get to know each other, so it’s especially important to keep up with maintenance during the mating season.

Water temperature is crucial to the koi fish breeding habits, with them preferring 65 to 70 degrees.

In natural bodies of water, this tends to take place in late spring or early summer.

Koi fish only breed once a year and only for six to seven years out of their life, so you need to take advantage of the window when it’s open.


6. Travel From Japan

Koi Carp


Since a large majority of koi fish breeders have farms in Japan, the koi fish need to travel from Japan to the buyer, wherever in the world that might be.

It costs an average of $41.50 per fish to transport a koi fish.

Since a single koi fish in a pond looks less than prosperous, assume that you will need to multiply that by the number of koi fish you plan to buy.

Before shipping, koi fish must fast for several days.

When in transport, the shipper must consider the water temperature, packaging, and safety of the fish.

After the fish arrive, the U.S. government will charge you a customs fee to have products shipped in from out of the country.

People who plan to sell the fish must also pay to obtain a license to sell the koi fish.

While many people try to breed koi outside of Japan, something in the water makes traditional Japanese koi fish just a little more special than the fish produced in other places in the world.


7. Lineage

Koi fish swimming underwater (Cyprinus Rubrofuscus)


Scientists have fossils of ancient koi from 500 million B.C.E. that prove that the koi fish always existed.

However, it may not have existed quite as we know it, especially since we can’t guess the color based on the fossil.

You may also be surprised to learn that the fossil comes from China.

While commonly thought to have originated in Japan, the first records come from China.

In the early 19th century, breeders started producing ornamental koi in Niigata, Japan by breeding hardy carp with particularly interesting colors and patterns.

Soon, they developed the koi fish we think of today.

The farmers initially intended to breed the fish for food but simply could not deny the specialness of the fish, despite their humble carp origins.

Since these first breeders were the only ones who knew how to breed the fish, the fish were rare.

To promote the beautiful creature in 1914, farmers gave a single koi fish to the Japanese emperor.

The trick worked, and the fish quickly grew in popularity.


Koi Fish Vs. Goldfish

Since goldfish derive from carp in Asia, many people associate koi fish with goldfish.

You can distinguish koi fish from goldfish much of the time thanks to their coloring and size.

However, some koi fish have rather simple coloring, and some goldfish grow as large as the average koi fish.

One surefire way to distinguish a koi fish from a goldfish is to look for whiskers by the mouth.

Koi fish have whiskers while goldfish do not.


8. Training

Feeding to many koi fish by hand in the fish big ponds


Many people who decide to get into the lucrative business of breeding or dealing koi fish understand how important it is to learn the intricacies of the trade.

Many people opt to take specialized classes online or through specialized organizations.

After certification from a respected program, classes can give someone a leg up in the koi fishing world, especially when just starting out.

Unfortunately, these classes can cost a significant amount of money upfront.

Business owners will need to increase the price of the fish to make up for the cost of their training.

Some industry experts learn the trade through apprenticeship as opposed to formal training in a classroom setting.

With such a proud tradition, many people born into the industry learn by helping people in their families.

While technically less expensive, this type of training can actually be worth more to people who prefer the trusted techniques passed down from generation to generation over technical training.


9. Symbolism

Two fancy carps in pond


Japanese culture contains a large amount of symbolism in the things we surround ourselves with.

Koi fish most often represent luck and wealth in Japanese culture.

People who create a koi pond hope that the good fortune and prosperity associated with koi fish will rub off on them.


Waterfall Myth

Koi fish also represent determination and perseverance through adversity.

One ancient Chinese myth tells the story of a school of golden koi fish that attempt to jump to the top of a waterfall while fighting a current in the Yellow River in China but fail over and over again.

Demons watch the fish and make fun of them as they continue to jump to the top of the waterfall.

The school of fish diminishes until only one fish continues to jump to the top of the waterfall.

After hundreds of years, the fish finally succeeds in his goal despite all of the other fish giving up.


Symbolism Through Color

Since koi fish come in such a wide range of colors, many traditions associate a specific meaning to each different color.

  • Red: strength and power
  • Gold: wealth
  • Blue: tranquility
  • Black: masculinity

When giving a koi as a gift, it’s important to choose a color that symbolizes the message you want to convey.

For example, it may not be appropriate to gift a 16-year-old girl a black koi fish.


10. High Demand

Koi fish pond


People clearly want koi fish.

In 2016, koi fish exports from Japan hit a high at 295 tons of koi fish export generating $28 million.

Many Asian-style restaurants and corporate buildings create koi ponds to enhance the ambiance of the establishment.

People also like to install koi ponds on their residential premises or at different landmarks.

Many people assume that the United States is the greatest importer of international koi fish, but they fail to understand the worldwide reach of this simple yet majestic creature.

Koi fish breeders describe having clients from all corners of the world.

Some countries that top the list of importers outside of the United States:

  • South Korea
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Vietnam
  • Saudi Arabia

The fact that the fish’s popularity transcends international borders contributes to its popularity and how much people can charge for the fish.

When something is in demand, sellers can charge more.

While many factors contribute to the cost of koi fish, the price seems to be increasing year after year with no signs of stopping.



koi fish alone


A koi fish may not be able to guarantee good luck coming your way, but it certainly can’t hurt.

Many people love koi fish so much thanks to their symbolism and exotic appeal that they have no problem shelling out the extra money compared to other fish.

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